Big Star – Nothing Can Hurt Me (2013)

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For fans of a certain age, Big Star was our Velvet Underground — the band that everybody sounded like, but nobody (well, nobody but us) actually knew anything about. R.E.M., the Replacements, Matthew Sweet, they all owed something to Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel.

Over time, all but Stephens has been lost. Bell, who left after Big Star’s nearly perfect 1971 debut No. 1 Record, died in a car accident not long after. Chilton and Hummel both passed in 2010.

And all the while, the Big Star sound — be that the gleaming power pop of that first record, or the skewering guitar sounds of the Chilton-led 1973 follow up Radio City, or the endlessly intriguing and often utterly dark erraticisms of their proto-emo finale Third/Sister Lovers — continued to seep out into the culture. There was Wilco, the dBs, the Flaming Lips, Beck, Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith, Teenage Fanclub.

And that, really, was all we had to go on, save for a stray radio show released in 1992 as Big Star Live and then a partial, though largely unsatisfying reunion featuring Chilton, Stephens and members of the Posies on 2005’s In Space.

Until now: With the release of a documentary of the same name comes Nothing Can Hurt Me, a set of all-new sounds — well, some all new mixes anyway — from this lost treasure of band. None of it, of course, could be called essential, certainly not for anyone who has worn their copies of No. 1 Record smooth.

Still, there are 21 things here to dissect anew. Some of them like “Thirteen” or “Try Again” (both featured on 1972’s No. 1 Record; the latter is from Bell’s pre-Big Star band Rock City) switch out guitars. Others, like Alex Chilton’s “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain” — which slightly predates Big Star — come to sound of a piece with Radio City within this context.

Sometimes, as with “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” where the solo has been tweaked, the differences might be so slight that only the obsessive would notice. But then there is are the revelatory wonders of this stark demo of “O My Soul,” which opened Radio City, and the raw flintiness of the rough mix of “Big Black Car” from Third/Sister Lovers, which was recorded in 1974 but didn’t see release until four years later.

Meanwhile, “In the Street” (also from Big Star’s debut, and probably best known now from the Cheap Trick-performed version that served as the theme to TV’s “That ’70s Show”), seems born anew with this broader, warmer sound palette. As with much of this release, the sound can only be described as cinematic by comparison.

Also of note: Chilton became the cult figure, the title subject of a Replacements song, yet his doomed partner Chris Bell is given his proper due here, as well. New mixes for the Nothing Can Hurt Me film of “Better Save Yourself” and “I Am the Cosmos” from Bell’s belatedly released lone solo effort provide another glimpse into what made the original alchemy of Big Star so memorable.

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